This Day In Writing History
On January 7th, 1972, the famous American poet John Berryman committed suicide at the age of 57. In 1926, when Berryman was twelve years old, his father, John Allyn Smith, Sr., a banker, committed suicide by shooting himself. His mother later remarried and he took his stepfather's surname, Berryman. But his father's suicide would haunt him all his life and affect his writing.
John Berryman's most famous work, a poetry collection called 77 Dream Songs, was published in 1964. The book, which featured a collection of 18-line, three-stanza poems, won Berryman a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Berryman's father's suicide is addressed in several of the poems, mostly indirectly, except for one direct reference where the poet wishes that he could kill his father's corpse.
Berryman would publish more collections of poetry. He was a faculty member of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he taught the poetry workshop. Berryman's workshop was noted for both its students - which included many soon-to-be-famous poets - and for the intensity of the classes. One night, during a particularly heated exchange, one of Berryman's students, poet Philip Levine, punched him in the face, breaking his glasses. Ironically, this incident would result in the formation of a lifelong friendship between the two men.
Throughout his life, John Berryman struggled with both alcoholism and severe depression. When his alcoholism began to affect his work, he sought treatment. After spending several months in a rehab facility, Berryman won his battle with alcoholism. In June of 1971, he returned to teaching, this time at the University of Minnesota. He also began working on a novel. Berryman remained sober for almost a year. Then, frustrated with his work-in-progress, he decided that his novel, which he had titled Recovery, was worthless.
On January 7th, 1972, two days after he started drinking again, John Berryman committed suicide by jumping off Minnesota's Washington Avenue Bridge. He was 57 years old. Despite his untimely and tragic death, during his life, John Berryman proved himself to be one of the most gifted poets of his generation.
Quote Of The Day
"We must travel in the direction of our fear." - John Berryman
Today's video features a 1967 BBC interview with John Berryman. He gives a great interview and reads his poem Dream Song 14 - while completely drunk! Enjoy!